I've had a quick visit to Canberra this weekend for my sister-in-law's surprise birthday party. Her children had organised it and she truly was surprised and, fortunately, delighted.
I long ago learned that you can always find ways to cram in additional pleasures and distractions when you go visiting. My first self-indulgence was to stay overnight at University House at the Australian National University. This used to be a residence for post-graduate students and a club for university staff, but for the last ten years or so it's been used as a place where anyone can stay. It's not very grand or luxurious, but it's probably the most wonderfully preserved example of mid-twentieth century architecture you could find in Australia. It was designed in the late 1940s and opened by the Duke of Edinburgh (no less) in 1954.
It's a simple building with low, horizontal lines, built around a central courtyard with a pool edging one curved side of the courtyard. The gardens and trees also date from the 1950s and the rooms are still furnished with the original simple, specially constructed, blocky wooden furniture. The building was planned to be 'unpretentious without extravagance' - and it certainly is. But now it also seems elegant, simple and restrained.
My other indulgence was an early morning visit to the Australian National Botanical Gardens this morning. It was drizzling rain and a bit misty - a perfect time to visit and see the plants at their best. Last summer there was concern that the Gardens would not survive the lengthy drought and water restrictions, but with the current rainy summer they're lush and luxuriant. The damp morning was ideal for visiting the gully planted with rainforest specimens:
and for tracing the stream edged by rock and rockery planting:
But as always, as an absolute amateur of gardens and gardening, I was most attracted by the flowers. The Gardens recreate landscapes from different areas of Australia, so for non-purists like me who don't insist that plantings are local, it was wonderful to see such diverse plants - and particularly the variety of flowers in bloom.
Now if I'd been a really diligent tourist I could have noted the botanical names of the flowers from the meticulous labels so I could impress you all with my botanical knowledge, but what with juggling an umbrella and camera and generally enjoying the morning, I just couldn't be bothered.